Mitch Duke targets 'breakout year' in Japan

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The ex-Central Coast Mariners forward reckons the next six months are 'the most important' of his professional career

After a tough second season in Japan, Mitch Duke has targeted 10 goals in the final six months of his Shimizu S-Pulse contract in order to attract as many suitors as possible.

An anterior cruciate ligament injury saw Duke play just seven games for Shimizu last year but the former Central Coast Mariners striker is excited about what the 2017 J.League season might bring with his club back in the top tier.

Shimizu were relegated at the end of 2015 - Duke's first year in Japan - but won their last nine matches of 2016 to finish second in J2 and earn an immediate return to the J.League.

With Duke's contract expiring midyear, the Australian forward can't wait to get back on the pitch and make his first senior appearance since April.

 

"It's probably the most important six months of my career to be honest," he told Goal .

"I had big expectations for myself last year and unfortunately this injury set me back, and I was hitting good form before my injury with my three starts before… my main aim is this six months is sort of the six months I lost last year.

"Here's my chance to sort of repay the club for what they've done and hopefully I can repay the favour for them and myself and set myself up with some good offers and possible options in the [Japanese] summer."

Duke insists he is settled in Japan with his partner and 10-month-old son and has a "possible offer to extend" his time with Shimizu but the all-action centre-forward would love to test himself in Europe and is hoping to produce the type of form that will get him noticed.

"I've just turned 26 so my window's [to go to Europe] closing very quickly, so hopefully I can do as well as I can, hopefully score double-digits within the six months and see what kind of options I have," he said.

Duke added: "I think I'm more than ready to really have a breakout year this year. I'm feeling fit and ready and only myself can hold me back really."

Having joined Shimizu in February 2015, Duke had a tough first year in Japan as the club was relegated and he worked under two separate coaches, who both played him as a wing-back.

Duke made 32 appearances in all competitions in 2015 but was pleased to see current boss Shinji Kobayashi take over at the start of 2016, as the 56-year-old Japanese - himself an ex-forward - chose to play the Australian in his natural position up front.

"It was such a shame because I did hit form as a striker and then three games later I got injured," Duke said.

"But he's [Kobayashi] looking at me as another striker for this year. We just lost an important striker in Genki [Omae] - our number 10 - he scored 18 goals last year and he's left for another club.

"So that's a big chance for me to fill that spot."

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Shimizu will start their 2017 campaign next month against Vissel Kobe.

 

 

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